People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 24, 2006
THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
ON December 11, the BJP and Shiv Sena once again stalled the parliament, demanding an apology from the prime minister (who was then not present in either house) for his observation on minorities at the National Development Council meeting last week and forcing an adjournment of the houses. To the BJP and SS, his word that minorities too have a claim on resources, was “minority appeasement.” Amid pandemonium, both houses adjourned thrice in the morning and then for the day after the lunch. It is clear that after the collapse of their ‘Shining India’ plank, these forces are indulging in mindless activities for survival.
DECEMBER 14 STRIKE
In both houses, the Left members strongly raised the issue of countrywide general strike on December 14. Their militant mood was evident early on the day when they, shouting slogan and waving placards, squatted in the Parliament House portico. Members of the SP, RJD and TDP also joined. As a gesture of solidarity with the striking workers, CPI(M) members did not sign the attendance register, meaning that they did not draw any allowance for the day. They forcefully demanded suspension of the question hour in the houses to take up the strike issue.
From the CPI(M), Sitaram Yechury in Rajya Sabha and Basudeb Acharia in Lok Sabha drew attention during the zero hour. They said crores of labourers in the country were on a strike to press their 16-point demands. They belonged to all sectors of the economy, and the strike was on the burning issues of unemployment and price rise. Moreover, all their demands were within the UPA’s Common Minimum Programme (CMP). Its promises needed to be implemented and the difference between ‘Shining India’ and ‘Suffering India’ removed at the earliest. The policies must aim at welfare of the people, and not on augmenting the capitalists’ profits.
Mentioning some points of the demands charter, Yechury emphasised the need to curb the price rise and strengthen the public distribution system; on a comprehensive legislation on social security and service condition for the unorganised sector workers and agricultural workers. He also demanded withdrawal of the ban on recruitment; stop to contractisation; no to privatisation and disinvestment in profit making and strategic sector PSUs including banks, insurance, telecom, ports and airports; stop to corporatisation of defence production; urgent steps for revival of sick PSUs; no FDI in retail trade; no FDI in coal, defence and pension sectors; and no slashing in the interest rates on PF, GPF, CMPF, PPF and small savings. He said a new index review committee must be set up, extensive land reforms effected in the country and the reservation bill for women introduce in parliament.
CPI(M) members came out of the two houses when their appeal for an adjournment of houses to express solidarity with the workers was not acceded.
On December 12, Lok Sabha passed the demands for supplementary grants – general, with P Satheedevi, P Karunakaran and Sudhangshu Seal joining the discussion from the CPI(M) side. Satheedevi and Karunakaran said agriculture had been ignored in the demands even though everybody was talking of an agrarian crisis. There is no attempt to address problems like the crash in prices of agricultural produce, shortage of low interest loans and weakness of the cooperative sector. No minimum support price is declared in time, thus denying justice to farmers.
Dealing with the problems of Kerala, these members said the import policy is detrimental to the state’s development and demanded a package deal covering all the districts of Kerala. The policy with regard to food supply is a stumbling block in running an effective public distribution system in the state, and it must be reviewed. The access to industrial credit is abysmal, there are only a few PSUs in Kerala and the state is lagging behind in industrial development. Educated unemployed are not getting jobs. The amount spent on health and education is much less compared to other states. The Finance Commission has denied assistance to Kerala on the plea that it is in a better position regarding education, health and housing. But, in fact, Kerala needs assistance for technical education and health. The considerably lowered borrowing ceiling for the states in 2006-07 is proving calamitous for the state. It means a drastic reduction in plan outlay and a severe cut in social sector expenditure.
While making their demands, these members said India today has the highest number of malnourished children in the world. So we must strengthen the ICDS, enhance the honorarium paid to Anganwadi workers and helpers, and regularise their services. Migration is taking place from rural to urban areas and is on the upswing. The migrant families must be provided basic protection and services.
Sudhangshu Seal said the growth in agriculture is much less than in other sectors. But whatever be the growth, the unorganised sector contributes over 50 percent of the GDP. Around 37 crore people, 93 percent of our workforce, are in the unorganised sector. But the surprising thing is that the government is not taking constructive measures for them. They have no insurance cover, nor provident fund and gratuity benefits. For instance, we export ornaments worth crores of rupees to different countries and their domestic sale is around Rs 40,000 crore. But lakhs of gem and jewellery artisans get paltry remuneration and are not covered by security schemes. As soon as they lose their working capacity, they are nowhere. Same is the case with agriculturists, horticulturists and floriculturists. We are producing large quantities of potatoes; not only can we meet the domestic demand but also export this commodity to other countries. But we do not have the infrastructure and efficient marketing system to export such products. As for Regional Rural Banks, the Aggarwal committee has given its recommendations; yet the RRBs are not being allowed to expand their activities even though they cater to the remote villages where even nationalised banks don’t go. Regarding education, Seal urged upon the government to make the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and other programmes more effective.
A further discussion on the problems of unorganised labour took place in Lok Sabha on December 13, with Sujan Chakraborty and P Karunakaran participating from the CPI(M). Chakraborty reminded that, in its CMP, the UPA government committed to the welfare and wellbeing of all workers, particularly those in unorganised sector, whose problems have further increased with the process of globalisation. Labour laws are being violated, workers are being crushed heavily, there are no fixed working hours and they have to work all through the night. They also lack social security, ESI, PF and other benefits. As for child labour, for the recent act prohibiting it to be effective, the problems of unorganised workers have to be effectively tackled. There is no dearth of acts and programmes for them. Janshree Bima Yojana, Beedi Workers Act is there, Construction (Contract) Workers Act, Minimum Wages Act etc, all are there. The problem is of their implementation. We have to take up their issues with seriousness and sincerity. Chakraborty suggested the introduction of national level identity cards and passage of a national policy for unorganised labour, and also demanded action on the Arjun Sengupta commission’s recommendations.
P Karunakaran pointed out that of about 35 crore workers in unorganised sector, about 25 crore are in agriculture and the rest in other sectors. Among them, about 65 lakh beedi workers are spread over Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, West Bengal, Orissa and many other states. A vast number of them are women who get very low wages. Most of the workers are deprived of minimum wages, PF, ESI and other benefits as the central act gives the states discretion to implement it or not. In this situation, cooperative societies in Kerala have come forward to mobilise the beedi workers and are giving them some help. But the government too must take measures for them. In Kerala, 22 plantation estates stand closed and 25-30 thousand workers are unemployed for the last three or four years. The Plantation Labour Act is not being implemented. Similar is the case with cashew, fishery, khadi and handloom sectors. Hence the need of strict implementation of existing labour laws, he said.
PREVENTING CHILD MARRIAGE
Rajya Sabha adopted the Prevention of Child Marriage Bill 2004 on the same day. Supporting the bill, the CPI(M)’s Brinda Karat expressed happiness that some important amendments had been incorporated in it. She said in our society women and girls are still being meted second grade treatment. We have a democratic system in the country but democracy does not mean votes only. If we infringe upon the human rights of a girl or a woman, it is definitely a scar on our democratic system.
The issue of child marriage is also related to our democratic, civil and human rights, and paying attention to its various aspects is necessary. The member asked: what are the reasons that child marriages are taking place even in such states where social reform movements had taken place earlier? Why do political parties in those states not raise this question? Unless the ruling people pay attention to it, the law would remain confined to paper. So it is our political responsibility to fight it together.
In this context, Brinda Karat named some women who raised their voice against child marriage and were punished. All those who have compromised with the persons committing atrocities must be covered under the definition of “abetment” given in a new provision made in this law. She also demanded that the standing committee recommendation regarding declaration of a child marriage void must be incorporated in the law. The Hindu Marriage Act must also be suitably amended to bridge the loopholes.
There is a question about what will happen to the three lakh girls who have become mothers in a below-15 age, if we declare the child marriage void. About it, the member insisted on constitution of a rehabilitation fund for the rehabilitation of such girls, as suggested by the standing committee. All the marriages must be registered, and a bill in this regard introduced at the earliest.
EMPLOYMENT GUARANTEE ACT
During the Rajya Sabha discussion on tardy implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), the CPI(M)’s Moinul Hassan said the NREGS has indeed generated employment for the unemployed rural people in 200 districts, but there are many shortcomings in its implementation. These are --- low allocation of funds; non-payment of minimum wages; huge delay in wage payments; absence of facilities at worksite; little accountability; little transparency; insignificant participation of women in planning and implementation. It is not up to the mark, the member emphasised. The term ‘family’ has not been properly defined in the scheme. The provision for safe drinking water, first-aid box at the worksite and hospital are there in the act, but no such thing exists at the rural site where works are going on. Thus the immediate task is to remove the shortcomings if we want to successfully implement this scheme and extend it to all over the country. There must also be separate women friendly provisions as far as earth digging and removing is concerned. The member also added that as there is no job for rural people in the rainy season, the government must provide them social sector related jobs.
The government proposes to include the NGOs in the agencies involved, but this would allow contractors to come in through the backdoor, which is contrary to the provision in the guidelines. Hence the member opposed the proposal, saying this is the government’s way of shirking from its responsibility. He also demanded linking the unemployment allowance with the capacity of the state governments to pay it.
As for the role of programme officers under this scheme, there is a guideline about monitoring: 2 percent of the work will be inspected by a state level officer, 10 percent by a district level officer and 100 percent by a block level officer. But it is not being done in every state, and there must be strict monitoring at different levels. Also, there must be some say of members of parliament in this scheme. The wheat and rice the FCI is supplying is unfit for consumption. All these aspects must be immediately and properly looked into.